Immigration centre
A general view of the Harmondsworth Immigration Detention centre on November 29, 2006 in Middlesex, England. Small fires were started in the UK's largest immigration removal centre resulting in violent clashes between the police force and detainees.Getty Images

Several privately run detention centres across the UK are paying their asylum seekers as low as one pound an hour to paint, serve food and even clean at odd hours at night, reported Channel 4 News.

Research carried out by a group called, Corporate Watch, reveals the precise nature of work being carried out by the asylums across nine locations in the UK.

The study carried out by the group reveals that detainees worked approximately 16,737 hours per month at the Harmondsworth detention centre in UK, while being paid only 17,218 pounds by the contractor GEO, which equates to a rate of 1 pound per hour.

However, if the workers had been compensated according to the national minimum wage, the overall cost of the work would have been approximately 105,610 pounds for the month.

UK Government
Screenshot (https://www.gov.uk/)

Even the minimum wage of an apprentice is as high as 2.73 pounds per hour, as seen in the chart on the left, taken from the UK government's website.

Channel 4 News reported that using asylum centre detainees is saving the private contractors approximately £3 million in labour costs.

Some of the private companies running detention centres across the UK, include G4S, Serco, GEO and Mitie.

The Home Office has noted that the work carried out by the detainees is voluntary and that they are exempt from being paid the national minimum wage, yet the detainees who have spoken to Channel 4 News say not working is not an option.

Detainees speak out

A detainee at the Harmondsworth centre said: "We're being kept in here, we're not allowed to make a living. To come in here and say, 'Oh yeah, here's a job, you get a pound an hour'. All the dirty jobs in here are done by the inmates.

We're being kept in here, we're not allowed to make a living. To come in here and say, 'Oh yeah, here's a job, you get a pound an hour'. I mean that's a slap in a face. All the dirty jobs in here are done by the inmates.
- Detainee at the Harmondsworth Detention Centre, UK

"Out there if you employ a cleaner you're paying at least minimum wage. So to get £1 an hour, Jeez, it's a big slap in the face. I mean, there are people in here who send money to their families with the money they get from their job."

Another asylum seeker, Tryness Ncube, from Zimbabwe, who worked as a cleaner at Yarl's Wood, said in an interview with Channel 4 News:  "It wasn't fair payment. UKBA (United Kingdom Border Agency) were taking advantage of the vulnerability of people knowing you would take the job because there is no other means of getting any income.

"I took the job because I wanted to call my solicitor. I spent everything I had from working on phone calls."

The Home Office, however, maintains that despite the low wages, the work itself adds value.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "The longstanding practice of offering paid work to detainees has been praised by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons as it helps to keep them occupied whilst their removal is being arranged.

"Whether or not they wish to participate is entirely up to the detainees themselves. This practice is not intended to substitute the work of trained staff."